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NASA's mobile moon rocket tower 44% over budget, IG says

NASA's Mobile Launcher rolls toward Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., in June. File photo by Joe Marino-Bill Cantrell/UPI
NASA's Mobile Launcher rolls toward Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., in June. File photo by Joe Marino-Bill Cantrell/UPI | License Photo

ORLANDO, Fla., March 17 (UPI) -- Construction on NASA's mobile launcher program for the new Space Launch System moon rocket is 44 percent over budget and three years behind schedule, a new report said.

The space agency has built one massive rolling platform to move its moon rockets, with another on the way. Crews are adapting the first launcher to be mated with the SLS rocket for its first launch, planned later this year.

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But the first launcher cost $308 million more than a budget set in 2014, for a total of $693 million, according to the report released Tuesday from NASA's Office of Inspector General.

Construction of the first platform "lacked coordination and competition with design contractors, coupled with ... design errors and integration challenges that drove the project's cost increases and schedule delays," the report said.

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The report follows similar criticism from the Inspector General of construction on the rocket, which is 30 percent over budget and two years behind schedule -- with $2 billion of cost overruns and increases.

NASA's Artemis moon program has a goal to return U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2024 by using the new heavy-lift rocket. The agency is developing two mobile launchers at Kennedy Space Center in Florida that will serve as the ground structure to assemble, process, transport and launch.

The mobile launcher enables NASA to move the rocket and launch tower to the pad on top of the huge crawler-transporter. It also allows NASA to move back inside the Vehicle Assembly Building in inclement weather, which the agency did before Hurricane Dorian brushed the coast in September 2019.

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NASA officials said in an official response that the second mobile launcher is "being designed and built under a single contract, which improves communication about design requirements."

The agency also said contractor award fees are determined every six months under the second contract.

Work on the platform is performed by private contractors, including Colorado-based Hensel Phelps and Virginia-based Vencore Services and Solutions, which had contracts of $144 million and $228 million, respectively, for the first mobile launcher.

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